Winter Classic on NBC Review: Network Covers the Game and Sport Well, But Not the League

I’m an unabashed fan of the Winter Classic.  I think it’s consistently the best thing the NHL does nowadays, aside from the Stanley Cup Playoffs.  Not only is it a different feel from every other NHL game of the regular season, but it’s the mere vibe that it gives off.  It’s peaceful to see at times.  When the shadows come out, it’s as if an exciting new dimension of the game has shown up to play.  The Overtime was some of the best hockey I’ve seen this year.

Now, let’s point out that while the sport and the event are perfect, how the NHL plays both are not.  The game was pretty terrible for the first 55 minutes or so, buoyed only by physical play and a lone goal.  However, a fantastic finish that included a Marco Sturm OT winner and the enthralling announcement of Team USA’s roster for the Vancouver Olympics should keep the ratings where they were expected to be.

I watched the telecast on NBC.  First of all, let’s give kudos where kudos are due.  Mike Emrick is the perfect broadcaster to call this sort of thing.  An interesting note: Doc did his dissertation (before he was Doc) on baseball announcing.  This seemed like the perfect mix for him, and it turned out to be true.  The man simply has too much knowledge.  Minutes into the telecast, he was telling me a fun fact about Fenway Park (that you can get a Ground Rule Triple there, unlike any other ballpark) that I had never heard a baseball play-by-play man reveal, much less a hockey one.  He did a fine job in treating it lower than a playoff game, but higher than the average regular season game.

Eddie Olczyk’s role was diminished a tad this year, for obvious reasons.  First of all, Edzo wasn’t playing host to the rest of the announcers like he was when the game was in Chicago, his hometown, last season.  Also, Emrick and Olczyk were back together as the typical Winter Classic team this season, Dave Strader’s presence out of the blue last year when Emrick was sick may have given Olczyk license to take over a little bit.  That said, a subdued but clearly excited Eddie Olczyk is one we can watch any day of the week.

Darren Pang is always a great addition to NBC’s team for some reason.  I never enjoyed Panger all that much when ESPN ruled the hockey airwaves, however, here he does a great job as the inside the glass reporter while Pierre McGuire was unavailable.  He’s a solid interviewer, points out only things that are happening on the ice that you can get from his perspective.  Too many times, McGuire will simply take over as the color analyst.  Pang did not overstep his boundaries and did a fine job.

Bob Costas and Mike Milbury are necessary for this telecast.  Milbury, while a little overconcerned with potential nastiness during the game, was clearly enthused that his hometown was hosting this.  Also, it’s always cool to see Milbury skate over from playing with the little kids.  Whoever invented that tradition should probably have his salary increased.  Costas does an okay job moving things around.  He is, as usual, the gold standard of American sports hosts.

Where the telecast runs into big problems, unfortunately, is the segments with Milbury and Costas.  While they did a fine job selling the event as significant, and the sport itself as significant, they did little to nothing to tell the average viewer watching hockey for the first time this year that the NHL is significant.  Pointless segments filled their portion of the broadcast.  A nonsense feature on whether Philly or Boston was a better sports city, augmented by former pitcher Curt Schilling in an interview, who never said one word about the game.

An even more nonsensical segment on the Miracle on Ice team showed up during the second intermission.  Are you familiar with this having happened?  Gosh, there should be a movie.  I love the 1980 team, as every good American does, but this thing screamed “unnecessary”.  Everyone knows the Olympics are coming, we did not need a lame filmed piece with Al Michaels interviewing the team.  Sadly, I get the sneaking suspicion that parts of that interview will be aired up to 30,000 times during the two week Olympic coverage.

The post-game introduction of Team USA was a nice touch.  NBC’s graphics were clean and didn’t get in the way of the game.  The camera shots were all good, and the angle from a plane is breathtaking, and also a great way to watch hockey.  NBC should consider airing the game entirely from the plane camera on one of it’s digital channels, or even on one of it’s cable channels next year.

Overall, it’s hard for a Winter Classic optimist like myself to be down on anything around here, but NBC needs to do a better job next year of pointing out that this is an NHL game, and there are 1,259 more of them worth watching.  A short package of highlights from the first half of the season, more than one or two promos for the next NHL On NBC Game of the Week (Chicago vs. Detroit, January 17th, 12:30 PM ET).  NBC does a fine job as the Winter Classic broadcaster, yet they have not proven themselves to be the great NHL broadcaster everyone is hoping for.

9 Responses to Winter Classic on NBC Review: Network Covers the Game and Sport Well, But Not the League

  1. Justin says:

    Cut down the pre-game, especially if you are going to fill it with nonesense. If you are going to recap the first part of the season or have meaningful content on both teams, ok then, otherwise just get to the game.

  2. john says:

    yea, show the spectacle instead of awkward interviews with orr and clark. save that for the intermission

  3. Rindu Muncie says:

    How can they EVER be a great NHL broadcaster if they refuse to show teams worthy of national coverage. For example, one of the NHL’s elite teams is the San Jose Sharks, but according to NBC, they don’t exist. Since moving to a one national game of the week format, the San Jose Sharks have yet to appear on NBC during the regular season. In that timeframe they’ve only appeared AT ALL on NBC during playoff games against Detroit. Many MANY things need to change for NBC to be a great broadcaster of the NHL, not just its WC coverage.

  4. dyhrdmet says:

    New Jersey Devils are another team worthy of national attention, but NBC won’t show them until they have to, but I digress.

    I think NBC had the blimp-cam streamed online (which is a slight delay from TV) for the entire game, but having it on Universal Sports or Versus next year is a pretty good idea.

  5. Al says:

    Teams like the Devils and Sharks “should” be shown more on NBC and Versus (especially the Sharks and most WC teams) but it’s about TV ratings. The group of teams they air now are either big markets (PHI, BOS, NY, DET, CHI) or have recognizable superstar players (Crosby-PIT, Ovechkin-WAS). Why are the Leafs on almost every week on CBC’S HNIC? Toronto is a big market.

    It stinks but that’s national broadcasts for you.

  6. Al says:

    I forgot to add that I’d like to see NBC go back to regional coverage (2 or 3 games). CBC has tried that more now since Toronto is bad, they air the Leafs, Ottawa, and Montreal in 3 separate games in the same 7:00 ET window when their schedules fit.

  7. Denis says:

    Al has it right. It’s about TV ratings. It’s not about NBC promoting the NHL. It’s about NBC using the NHL to promote itself and its agenda. And that agenda this year is the Olympics, and boosting the ratings for them.

  8. PNB says:

    The aerial cam was live on for the entire game. Check it out next year!

  9. Dave Sullivan says:

    Incidentally, there’s no such thing as a ground rule triple, at Fenway or elsewhere. That story about the ladder is just an old joke.

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